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Do Dogs Get Jealous?

I was watching a cute video this morning from Holiday Barn Pet Resorts Dog Daycare. While the focus of the…

I was watching a cute video this morning from Holiday Barn Pet Resorts Dog Daycare. While the focus of the video was about two dogs playing in the center of the screen, off to the side I watched as another dog – let’s call him Fido – purposely pushed a playmate off of the camp attendant’s lap so that he could jump into it! In fact, Fido seemed thoroughly aghast that another dog would dare take his place. Fido was clearly jealous of the attention the camp attendant was giving to his playmate.

Because of the complexity of the emotion, it is often assumed that jealousy is experienced only by humans. Dogs are capable of so many human-like emotions, but do they actually feel jealousy?

Holiday Barn Pet Resorts Professional Dog Trainer, Melaina, said, “While jealousy is a complex emotion, I do believe dogs get jealous to some degree.” She would know. Melaina has three adorable dogs and many other canine “students” that she trains on a daily basis. Melaina continued, “Within my own pack, I see behaviors I would deem as ‘jealous.’ When interacting with one dog by petting, giving treats, etc., all three of my dogs will try to get in on the action. I see behaviors such as smacking each other with their paws, nudging my hand with their snouts, and pushing the other dogs out of the way.”

The “doggy experts,however, are all over the map as to whether or not dogs can feel such a complex emotion.

What Does Research Say About Jealousy In Dogs?

Discover Magazine, referring to the research by Stan Cohen, a well-known behaviorist from the University of British Columbia, is adamant that a dog will never be able to feel complex emotions. The article stated, “a dog has the basic emotions: joy, fear, anger, disgust, excitement, contentment, distress, and even love. A dog does not have, and will not develop, more complex emotions, like guilt, pride, contempt, and shame, however.And jealousy?

Earth Magazine quoted Marc Bekoff, a Cognitive Ethologist (one of his many titles), saying, “… dogs have emotions just like people do, experiencing feelings such as love, anger, fear, grief, anxiety, and joy. Dogs also produce more complex emotions such as shame, embarrassment, jealousy, guilt, resentment, pride, and empathy.

I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Bekoff. In my 20 years of working with dogs, there is no doubt in my mind that they experience many of these emotions. Why are some experts convinced otherwise? Is it so impossible that a dog’s mind has developed a more complicated, intricate mental state or process through evolution?

How Do Emotions Look In Dogs?

An interesting study by NCBI, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, proposed a framework for the evolutionary study of emotion. While revealing that scientists are not all that confident in their knowledge of emotional phenomena in humans, it stated that there are two widely accepted theories regarding emotion. The Basic Emotion Theory and the Dimensional Theory.

The “Basic Emotion Theory” (for humans) describes how basic emotions evolved in humans, which I believe to be similar to that of a dog. This theory proposes that human beings have a limited number of emotions, for example, fear, anger, joy, and sadness, that are biologically and psychologically “basic.” However, the elements of basic emotions can be combined to form complex or compound emotions.

The Wiley Online Library describes jealousy as “an experience that combines the emotions of anger, anxiety, betrayal, and hurt when one feels that a valued relationship is threatened by a third party.” So, if scientists all agree that dogs have basic emotions, then why do they not agree that those combined emotions can develop and evolve into more complex emotions over time just as they do in humans?

How do we describe the behavior expressed by Fido at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts Dog Daycare, who was so obviously distressed that another dog was in “his” person’s lap? If it is not jealousy or envy, then what is it?

Can A Dog’s “Jealous” Behavior Be A Pack Instinct?

The belief that a dog’s ancestry is deeply ingrained in pack hierarchy might explain its jealous behavior. According to the theory of dominance in a pack, many believe a dog’s sole aim in life (when in a pack) is to reach the top of the hierarchy. By “dethroning” their competitors, dogs maneuver their way to the top. A dog’s way of demonstrating social hierarchy could present itself as being assertive, pushy, or some of the other behaviors we can relate back to jealousy.

Similarly, research suggests that dogs get jealous because it is a survival trait. Cooperation within a pack is crucial to pack survival. Alliances are formed within the pack and can therefore be threatened by rivals. When a rival threat is perceived, jealous behavior may occur.

Do Dogs Get Jealous When They Detect Favoritism?

Melaina wonders sometimes if her dogs feel jealous, left out, or unfairly treated when she is working with or showing affection to another dog. “If I train one dog, it is not uncommon for the others to whine, bark, or act excited in anticipation that it may be their turn next. I can only assume in these scenarios my dogs are thinking, ‘Me too!’” Research confirms her assumption.

According to an article in The Guardian, Friederike Range, an Austrian researcher, led experiments related to jealousy in dogs. Her first test was to reward one dog with food in return for them offering their paw. Even when she ceased giving the food reward, the dog continued to offer its paw. She then tested pairs of dogs by the same method but stopped giving a food reward to only one of the dogs. The dog that didn’t get a reward quickly began to display what appeared to be envy. It knew it was being treated unfairly.

Does A Dog’s Jealousy Stem From Possessiveness?

It is not unusual for a dog to be somewhat possessive of its owner. Melaina says her dogs thrive off of a relationship with her, and rightly so. She is their leader. While they do not show aggressive behavior, they will sometimes try to get her attention when she is focused on another dog – either one of her own or a dog she is training.

Melaina’s dogs have a healthy attachment to her, but some dogs become extremely possessive of their owner. A dog that is possessive towards its owner is similar to a dog that is “resource guarding.” Resource guarding happens when a dog asserts their ownership over something, like a toy, food, or anything else in their possession. But in this case, the dog is guarding its owner.

Dogs want to protect their families. Sometimes, protective behavior looks like possessiveness. Generally, it is not a problem as long as the accompanying behavior is not hostile. However, possessiveness does have the potential to grow into a problem.

Is A Dog’s Jealous Behavior Related To Being Territorial?

Jealous behavior is often related to a dog’s territorial instincts. For the most part, territorial behavior is normal and is usually harmless. But sometimes, unfamiliar “guests” in what a dog perceives as his territory can trigger very primal instincts, producing behavior that we recognize as jealousy.

Often, territorial behavior stems from a lack of proper socialization as a puppy, as it has not been taught how to respond to its world in a healthy way. Sadly, dogs like this struggle with fear. Fear can cause the dog to become overly anxious and aroused with the possibility of becoming aggressive.

Is Dog Jealousy Dangerous Behavior?

Jealousy is right up there with other negative emotions: hate, anger, and sadness. Experts will say some types of human jealousy are healthy, but I am not so sure this concept applies to dogs. Jealous behavior can certainly be a dangerous thing in dogs.

NCBI describes jealous behaviors in dogs as snapping, getting between the owner and object, pushing, barking, growling, whining, or otherwise negative behavior towards the object (a thing, person, or another dog) that they perceive as a threat.

Is My Dog’s Jealousy Harmful?

There are a few things to keep in mind when taking your dog’s behavior into consideration.

  • Aggression in any form is an unhealthy response to jealousy. Watch for behaviors such as snapping, biting, and growling. 
  • Be alert to changes in your dog’s body language. Subtle clues can be an indication of increasing stress in a jealous situation. This includes showing the whites of their eyes, body stiffening, or licking their lips.
  • Even if your dog has not physically or aggressively responded to its perceived threat, you may detect a growing resentment. This could even be exhibited by withdrawal from or obvious dismissal of the threat. Be aware of your dog’s next moves if you sense animosity or antagonism toward its supposed threat.
  • Your dog may take out its frustration with destructive behavior in the home, such as chewing on furniture or destroying its bed.

If you are dealing with a potential behavioral issue with your dog, don’t wait until the problem presents itself. Reach out to our Professional Dog Trainers for help.

Addressing Your Dog’s Jealousy

Be careful not to reward your dog’s bad behavior. It would be easy to indulge a pet that is clearly demonstrating jealous behaviors. “Awww, come here Fifi. You know Mommy loves you!” Hugs and kisses ensue. I’m a softie and could easily fall into that trap.

This sounds crazy, but if you scold your dog for its jealous behavior while it is occurring, it may backfire as you are actually giving it the attention it desires. In other words, don’t reward your dog with your attention good or bad. The best thing to do if your dog is displaying jealous behavior is to ignore them, turn your back on them, or calmly remove them from the situation. Then, call the Holiday Barn Pet Resorts Professional Dog Trainers for help.

In the meantime, make sure you are giving your dog the attention it needs. Dogs get jealous because they are afraid of losing your love and attention. Spend time with your dog. Take them for walks. Practice obedience commands. Teach them new things. Include them in activities.

All they really want to know is that you love them.


Contact Holiday Barn Pet Resorts Professional Dog Trainers in Midlothian at 804-794-5400.

For our Glen Allen location, call 804-672-2200.


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